Thursday, 19 August 2010

Ouija Boards - a study in suggestion

I think far too much credence has been given to the alleged supernatural properties of the Ouija or spirit board. What started out as a harmless Victorian parlour game, seems to have inherited an altogether sinister and unhealthy reputation. A reputation that has been exploited over the years by authors and filmmakers only to ready to link Ouija with the occult - and why not!

The Ouija comprises of a board originally made of wood (some of the earlier ones were very elaborate indeed) decorated with the letters of the alphabet and numerals from 0 - 9. The words Yes and No and in some of the later offerings - Hello and Goodbye. A planchette, a small wooden heart shaped pointer on three wheels, is used to spell out messages believed by many to be from the spirit world.

The Ouija grew in popularity toward the end of the 18th century when spiritualism was at its height and the antics of table tipping and table knocking were becoming somewhat trite. These cheap tricks were deployed by many unscrupulous mediums to announce to the paying “circle” that they were in the presence of a spirit. This deception would then lend weight to phase two, where the medium would appear to “go into trance” and start to commune with the dead. Not surprisingly, these shenanigans were later exposed in their hundreds by researchers of the paranormal, journalists and others only to willing to expose these people for what they were.

The Ouijas’ growing popularity was further promoted by manufactures claiming it could 'summon up ghosts and spirits'. Its popularity proved irresistible for mediums and spiritualists alike and became an essential tool of the trade. It even managed to acquired its own “do’s and don’ts.“ Certain precautions would have to be adhered to at all times, for example: a short prayer would be uttered at the start and finish of a sitting. The placing of a silver coin at the edge of the board. No multiples of three sitters at anyone time were allowed in the circle. The Ouija should never be used when the moon is full. The list grew and grew a bit like Chinese Whispers. All these precautions were designed to protect those participating from evil spirits. Or was it maybe an illusion designed to create an atmosphere of menace and uncertainty?

The Ouija was an ideal instrument which could be easily manipulated, often with the aid of an accomplice within the circle. Members of the circle or séance, would be instructed to lightly place their fingertips at the edge of the little planchette, and before long it would start to move, it was not an option to disappoint. The planchette would glide, unaided of course, from letter to letter, supposedly under its own power, and would spell out messages from beyond the grave.

Ouija relied heavily on the mindset of the susceptible, the suggestible and the gullible. People of an impressionable nature, those who daily read their horoscopes in the national papers for example, would probably do wise to leave the Ouija well alone.

Having sat in on several such sessions, I am of the opinion that a conscious manipulation of the planchette ultimately decides the outcome of an Ouija sitting and not as some would have you believe, messages from beyond the grave.

Today the Ouija board should be regarded as nothing more than an adult toy as it was intend 100 years ago or more. It is unfortunate that some people still see fit to demonize it.

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